Sorting out school holiday arrangements for children

Schools are back and the term is well underway following the summer holidays, but the Christmas break is fast approaching. Whilst this may be an exciting prospect for the children, it can be fraught with difficulties for their separated or divorced parents.

Separated parents will often want their children to spend more time with them during school holidays, and even more so over the festive season. This may simply mean an extended period of uninterrupted contact, or may involve plans to go on holiday, possibly abroad (subject, at present, to Covid restrictions). It also means deciding who will have the children on Christmas Eve, Christmas morning, Boxing Day and New Years’ Eve.

Of course, as with all arrangements for children, parents should try to agree matters between themselves. They can do this by discussing plans directly if that is possible, or if the relationship is not amicable, they can open negotiations between solicitors, or via mediation, whereby a trained mediator will help them to reach an agreement.

What happens if it is not possible to sort out matters by mutual agreement? 

If parents cannot agree arrangements for their children they can apply to the court for a child arrangements order.

A child arrangements order will set out with whom a child is to live with, spend time with or otherwise have contact with and when.

How does the court decide how much time a child should spend with each parent?

It all boils down to the child’s welfare. Or, to put it another way, what the court considers is in the best interest of the child.

The court has a checklist of factors to consider when deciding what is best for the child. These include the wishes of the child (if they are old enough to express a wish), the needs of the child, the effect on the child of any change in circumstances, and any harm that the child is at risk of suffering.

Generally speaking, however, the court will usually want the child to spend as much time as possible with each parent. This often means that school holidays, and festive dates, should be shared between the parents.

What about taking the child abroad?

What happens here depends in part upon whether a child arrangements order has already been made.

If no order has been made, then neither parent can take the child abroad without the consent of the other parent, or the permission of the court. If they do so they will be committing a criminal offence under the Child Abduction laws.

Similarly, where a child arrangements order has been made, no person may remove the child from the United Kingdom without either the written consent of every person who has parental responsibility for the child, or the permission of the court.

(The mother will always have parental responsibility, and the father will have it too if he was married to the mother, if he is registered on the birth certificate as the child’s father, if the mother agreed to him having parental responsibility, or if the court granted it to him.)

So far much the same as when there is no order. The difference, however, comes when the order states that the child should live with a parent. That parent may remove the child from the UK for a period of less than one month, without needing the other parent’s consent or a court order.

What if you don’t have an order saying the child is to live with you? 

It goes back to what is in the best interest of the child. But if there are no concerns about the child being taken abroad, in particular that the parent will bring them back to this country, then it is likely in most cases that the court will agree to the child being taken abroad for a holiday.

Plan ahead

The important point to note in all of this is that parents should plan ahead when it comes to arrangements for children over the school holidays.

Applications to the court take time, and the court will not usually consider that a last-minute application for permission to take a child abroad on holiday is sufficiently important to be dealt with as a matter of urgency.

The best thing is to sort out holiday arrangements in advance when all other arrangements for the children are made, whether by agreement or court order. If this happens then everyone, in particular the children, will know where they stand.